U.S. lab squeezes HDTV into standard TV channel


LOS ALAMOS, N.M. - Scientists at the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a technology that could make the coming transition from current analog television to high-definition television a whole lot easier.

The technology is a new transmission algorithm capable of compressing a HDTV data stream to the point where the HDTV and analog TV signals can be broadcast over the same channel. This is of particular significance to consumers since Congress has mandated that HDTV be the required format for broadcast television signals by 2006.

"The most significant advantage of the technology over existing methods is that it permits broadcasting television networks to avoid spending millions of dollars on transmission systems for both analog and HDTV signals," said Los Alamos' George Nickel, the algorithm's developer. "Those potential savings could help stimulate a more rapid acceptance of this technology."

The LANL compression technology allows both the new digital and old analog TV sets to receive a signal compatible to each system without requiring broadcasters to simulcast two distinct signals on two separate channels. The compression concept permits transmission of digital and analog signals in a form that does not require a converter for old receivers since an added software loop in the HDTV receivers recovers the digital information from the same channel.

The information content in the picture using the algorithm, as measured in bits per pixel, will amount to approximately 80 percent of that for a dedicated HDTV transmission.

The use of this scheme would supplement the current HDTV format and could allow early expansion of HDTV availability without the use of additional simulcasting bandwidth during an interim period. After HDTV sets are more common, the signal could be converted to the regular HDTV format.

"Currently, there are an estimated 120 million analog TV sets in use in the United States and researchers estimate that only 30 percent of the U.S. population is familiar with HDTV," said Kathleen Herrera, a technology licensing specialist at Los Alamos. "This presents a significant problem for consumers and manufacturers. HDTV manufacturers generate minimal revenue from HDTV sales and prices for the sets are high. Since HDTV receivers are expensive and programming is limited, consumers are hesitant to adopt the new format. This conundrum means the technology may not take off on its own. When the time comes in 2006 to convert broadcast formats, a large percentage of the population may not be aware of the advantages of HDTV sets and refuse to pay the additional costs for them while manufacturers must produce HDTV sets to comply with the congressional mandate."

The Los Alamos compression algorithm offers an interim solution to the problem faced by consumers since it would permit the continued broadcast of analog signals until awareness of HDTV increases and the costs of HDTV sets decrease with improvements to the technology and increased sales volume. The Los Alamos technology could also provide television broadcasters significant savings by avoiding the purchase of transmission equipment to broadcast both signals simultaneously as well as requiring fewer support personnel to operate equipment.

The Los Alamos technology is the result of compression research initially conducted for image processing used in underground nuclear testing. A patent application has been filed on this technology and Los Alamos is seeking qualified licensees. Licensees must be able to demonstrate prior professional experience in the fields of television broadcasting and/or equipment manufacturing. For information on this and other licensing opportunities contact Herrera in the Laboratory's Industrial Business Development Office at (505) 667-5844 or kaherrera@lanl.gov.


Back to headlines

Problems or Comments? Contact the Webmaster
Copyright 2001 Southam Publications Inc.